Stories tagged public health

Nov
02
2014

As Jerry Seinfeld might say: "What's the deal with Ebola?"

Ebola virus: Here's the famous photo enlargement of a microscope's view of Ebola.
Ebola virus: Here's the famous photo enlargement of a microscope's view of Ebola.Courtesy CDC
Many on the cable news networks seem to want to make it sound like the next version of the Black Plague. Politicians have turned it into a campaign issue as we head into the final days of the mid-term elections. The late-night comics are cracking jokes about it. But a lot of people in the U.S. are scratching their heads about how big a threat Ebola is to their personal health.

Here's a round-up of information on informational resources to help sort through the yapping to get to the heart of the matter on the Ebola threat.

The Centers for Disease Control have produced a nice info graphic about the ways Ebola virus is transmitted. It's not passed along by airborne systems like some other viruses. Droplets from an impacted individual need to make it into the body of an uninfected person for transmission to occur. Germs like chicken pox and TB are spread through the air. Germs like the plague and meningitis are spread through droplets.

What can you do to safeguard yourself from Ebola?

• Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
ª Routinely clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces like bathroom surfaces, since some germs can stay infectious on surfaces for hours or days and lead to transmission.

Who faces the highest risks? Here's the CDC's link to those facing the highest risk factors. In the U.S., healthcare workers treating those with Ebola have by far the highest risk levels. People living west African nations, where the core of the outbreak is located, have the highest risk factor as Ebola can be contracted there through the handling of wild meats, being bitten by bats or coming in contact with objects that have been infected by the virus.

What are Ebola's symptoms?

Where have other outbreaks occurerd?

How can Ebola be treated?

So what do you think? Has news coverage of the Ebola outbreak been informative to you? What more would you like to know? How concerned are you about Ebola impacting your life? Share your views here with other Science Buzz readers.

Oct
16
2012

Flu shot: A new study shows that flu shots are effective, at best, up to 59 percent of the time. Researchers are encouraging drug companies to develop new and better flu shots for the future.
Flu shot: A new study shows that flu shots are effective, at best, up to 59 percent of the time. Researchers are encouraging drug companies to develop new and better flu shots for the future.Courtesy r Joseph R Schmitt
Hey, I got my flu shot last week. It's been about 10 years now I've been able to get a free flu shot covered by my health insurance plan. And I'm happy to say I've never had the flu in all that time.

That, of course, is all anecdotal evidence. But some researchers at the University of Minnesota have been studying the issue of flu shots and have some new ideas on the matter. Based on their findings, they're encouraging new research to find a "game-changer" new vaccine to make flu shots more effective.

The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the U released its findings yesterday. And overall, they found that flu shots had, at best, a 59 percent effectiveness rate for adults ages 18 to 64. Effectiveness rates for flu shots for people younger and older than that age group were inconsistent. The nasal-spray vaccine was found to have an efficacy of 83 percent in children ages 6 months to 7 years.

Vaccine manufacturers haven't made any significant changes to flu vaccine formulas for many years, mostly based on the idea that the flu shots were highly effective. But the new report challenges that theory and encourages new research to find different approaches to flu vaccines, with those new approaches aiming to have a higher rate of prevention.

In the meantime, the researchers are still encouraging people to get a flu shot this season. Some protection is better than no protection, they point out. And they also said that their findings showed no reason to believe that flu shots cause any harm to people who receive them.

What do you think? Are you getting a flu shot this year? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.

May
14
2011

A male in New Mexico has been confirmed as being infected with the bubonic plague; and has earned the distinction of being the first person to get it this year. The Black Plague, a flea-borne disease, has never gone completely away and individuals in some remote areas are at some risk for catching it. There are about a dozen cases in the United States from bubonic plague annually.

Plague patient admitted to New Mexico hospital

The first person in the United States this year to have the bubonic plague is a 58 year old man from New Mexico. Who this man is has not been released yet. Time states it is being kept secret for now. There are certain plague symptoms. The male had them all. He was admitted with a fever, abdominal and groin pain along with painfully swollen lymph nodes. In plague patients, lymph glands swell to the point where they're visible, which in the Middle Ages came to be referred to as a "bubo," hence the name "bubonic plague.". Wikipedia explained that "bubo" means lymph nodes. It is ancient Greek.

No need to bring out the dead

On average, there are 13 bubonic plague cases annually while 1 to 40 are typically reported, the CDC states. Without treatment, 50 to 90 percent of cases will end in death. That number drops to 15 percent when treated properly. In 2003, the World Health Organization recorded 2,118 cases in nine nations and 182 deaths. Of those cases, 98.7 percent were in Africa, as were 98.9 percent of the deaths. Most cases in the United States occur in New Mexico, according to the Miami New Times. In 2009, there were 6 New Mexico plague cases. Since 1949, there have been 262 cases total. Until the middle of the 20th century, small plague outbreaks were common. The Los Angele Times states that only then did it start to become uncommon. Outbreaks were noted in San Francisco from 1900 to 1908, and epidemics occurred in Oakland in 1919 and LA from 1924 to 1925. The plague was a real issue in 1924 in LA. There were 37 people killed from it.

Comes from fleas

"The bubonic plague, or the Black Plague or Black Death, is caused by a bacteria carried by fleas called Yersinis Pestris. Plague-infected fleas spread it by feeding on small rodents for instance prairie dogs, rats, chipmunks and ground squirrels. Individuals with pets or rodents near can have the fleas on the animal. Then, the flea can jump to the human. The disease is caused when people are bitten by fleas carrying the bacteria. There is a lot of risk in the Southwest. This is where it is the greatest. New Mexico is home to half of all cases, but other cases have occurred in Arizona, California, Nevada and Oregon. Unless the disease becomes pneumonic plague in the lungs, it is non-infections in individuals. It can help to have antibiotics. This has to be within the first 24 hrs of symptoms though.“

Articles cited

Time
Miami New Times
Centers for Disease Control
World Health Organization
Bubonic plague on Wikipedia
Los Angeles Times

The ongoing nuclear disaster in Japan has been upgraded to a 7, the highest possible threat level. Authorities say that, despite the potential radiation exposure to people in the surrounding area, the Japanese disaster is still only emitting about 10% of the radiation at Chernobyl. More soon...

Jan
07
2011

Back in 1998, a British doctor named Andrew Wakefield did a study on twelve children, and wrote a paper claiming that a link existed between childhood vaccinations and autism.

Naturally, this freaked out a lot of parents, and lots of folks stopped having their kids vaccinated. Consequently, infection rates of diseases that are totally preventable with vaccines—like measles and whooping cough—went up.

Then, other scientists were unable to reproduce Wakefield's experiment, which kind of made it seem like it was wasn't accurate to begin with. Wakefield couldn't even reproduce his experiment. Nonetheless, lots of people stuck to the idea that autism is caused by vaccines, or by ingredients in vaccines. When these ingredients were removed because of the concern, people picked other ingredients to blame. Still scientists could find no link between any of the components of vaccines and autism.

Meanwhile, most of the other scientists involved with Wakefield's research removed their names from the published results. And then The Lancet, the respected medical journal that originally published Wakefield's research, actually retracted the study, because it was so inaccurate. And then Wakefield had his medical license, because his poor research was so irresponsible. Still Wakefield and his supporters insisted that the link existed, and that he was the target of a global conspiracy.

Now, there's another nail in a coffin that just won't stay shut: a journalist (who has signed a statement saying that he has no financial interest in the debate) has found that Wakefield's original research on the twelve children was fraudulent. Wakefield misrepresented the medical histories of his subjects to make it appear that they had developed autism after receiving the vaccine for mumps, measles and rubella, when, in fact, some of the subjects had shown signs of autism before receiving the vaccine, and some had not developed autism at all.

During all this, Wakefield accepted $674,000 from lawyers preparing a lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers. Eh... whoops.

The new information suggests that not only was Wakefield's research inaccurate, he deliberately falsified it.

It's an interesting story, but as Dr. Max Wiznitzer points out in the article linked to above, the medical and scientific communities already knew Wakefield was a fraud, and Wakefield's followers aren't likely to change their positions now, so it's a little bit of a moot point.

Wakefield himself says that the truth is in his book, which he wants you to buy.

Nov
10
2010

This scanning electron micrograph depicts a number of Vibrio cholerae bacteria; Magnified 22371x.: Cholera can be simply and successfully treated by immediate replacement of the fluid and salts lost through diarrhea. Severe cases also require intravenous fluid replacement.
This scanning electron micrograph depicts a number of Vibrio cholerae bacteria; Magnified 22371x.: Cholera can be simply and successfully treated by immediate replacement of the fluid and salts lost through diarrhea. Severe cases also require intravenous fluid replacement.Courtesy CDC/ Janice Haney Carr
Picture yourself lying in a bed with a hole cut out under you to collect buckets full of unstoppable diarrhea. Now imagine your child lying there. Finally, pretend you are not one of the lucky ones lying on a cholera cot in a hospital, but are lined up outside a hospital in the street.
Cholera is an ugly disease.

The bacteria makes a toxin that shreds the intestinal lining, causing white flecks that look like rice to be passed in huge volumes of watery diarrhea. In hospitals, these “rice water stools” are collected and measured in buckets so body fluids can be replaced. Adults can lose up to 22 liters a day while battling this devastating infection. Without fluid and electrolyte replacement, most victims die from shock.

Lucky patients that recover often still carry the bacteria and can infect others. They can even re-infect themselves.

Cholera bacteria can survive outside the human body in water. They do especially well in dirty water. Unsanitary conditions are breeding grounds for Vibrio cholera.
I read this morning in the New York Times that cholera has spread from the Hatian countryside to the crowded, unsanitary camps of the earthquake survivors in Port-au-Prince. The camps don’t have clean toilets and are often flooded when it rains. Over a million people live in filth and poverty. According to the article, health officials predict that over 270,000 people could get sick with Cholera over the next few years.
People like you, and me, and our kids.

What can you do to help? Support aid organizations that are mobilizing to get clean water, water purification supplies, and medical supplies to Haiti. Once the supplies arrive though, it’s up to the Hatian government to make sure workers are able to get them to the people most in need. Let’s hope they do.

(This blog post was originally posted on the Kitchen Pantry Scientist blog.)

The hype of H1N1 flu has run its course. News reports say that 40 million doses of unused vaccine (valued at $260 million) have been destroyed and that the flu impacted much fewer people than the regular seasonal flu. And there are millions more doses of the vaccine are set to expire at the end of this month. What just happened?

May
14
2010

Some of you may have said to yourselves over the years, “Yeah, yeah. Climate change. Hug a tree. Save the polar bears and manatees. Whatever. I’m just SO over the sexy megafauna, appeal-to-emotion approach.” Well, have I got a story for you!

In April, the University of Wisconsin, Madison’s Jonathan Patz, who holds a medical doctorate and a masters degree in public health, gave a riveting lecture at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment on how climate change affects public health. And pretty much everybody wants to live long and prosper, so I’m guessing you care about your health just as much as I do and want to know more…

Well, basically, there is increasing scientific evidence that climate change is hazardous to your health.

The end.

Just kidding!

The logic is that basic changes in the Earth’s physical environment affect public health. Take one example, as warmer climates trigger species migration, vector-borne diseases like malaria and Lyme disease will leave traditional zones to infest new land areas. That’s good news for some people, but bad news for others.

Yuck!: Polar bears might make better poster-children for climate change afterall
Yuck!: Polar bears might make better poster-children for climate change afterallCourtesy Scott Bauer, USDA

Let’s break that idea down: global climate change suggests that some regions will experience warmer annual temperatures. Mosquitoes (that carry malaria) and ticks (bringers of Lyme disease) are cold-blooded, which means they don’t make their own heat and have to “steal” heat from their surroundings. Regions with warmer annual temperatures are attractive real estate for cold-blooded critters. As climate change increases annual temperatures, tick and mosquito habitat ranges will shift. Like many people, mosquitoes and ticks will move into warmer, better neighborhoods. Unfortunately for their new neighbors, the baggage of these insects causes fever, vomiting, and diarrhea (malaria) or rash, joint pain, and numbness (Lyme disease). Yikes!

Other symptoms of climate change (i.e. extreme weather and rising sea levels) have the potential to increase the severity of diseases like heat stress, respiratory diseases like asthma, cholera, malnutrition, diarrhea, toxic red tides, and mental illness (due to forced migration and overcrowding).

Not to be a downer, Patz pointed out that tackling global climate change might be the greatest public health improvement opportunity of our time in terms of number of lives saved, hospital admissions avoided, and ultimately health care cost decreases (which everyone needs!).

Is there any other good news?? Uh, besides less frostbite? No, seriously: on the bright side, warmer weather should increase the amount of physical activity of the average person (not many of us like to run in the dead of winter, you know), and, as Russia’s Vladimir Putin put it, "…an increase of two or three degrees wouldn't be so bad for a northern country like Russia. We could spend less on fur coats, and the grain harvest would go up.” So, yeah, there is some good news, but the real question is: does it outweigh the bad stuff?

Feb
12
2010

Do you remember last year's story about the laser-filled future of mosquito killing? Some folks were working on an automatic mosquito-killing device that could identify a mosquito flying dozens of feet away, and then blast it to death with a little laser.

Ah, it was like The World of Tomorrow, but yesterday. And so... I guess that means that The World of Tomorrow is now today! Let's check where our mosquito-zapper is at...

Here it is! Check out that link for slow-motion video of mosquitoes being fried to crisps in mid-air. It's a little pathetic, and a little hilarious. (Patharious.)

And here's the site for the company working on it.

Jan
06
2010

I just came across the following article in The Scientist. It made me say, are you serious!?!?!

The Scientist: NewsBlog:
Test a vax, fly to Mexico
Posted by Jef Akst
[Entry posted at 6th January 2010 03:00 PM GMT]

Want to go to Central America for free? All it takes is your participation in a clinical trial for a diarrhea vaccine. A patch worn on the arm can earn you a complimentary trip to one of nine cities in Mexico and Guatemala, courtesy of Intercell AG.

The Austrian drug company is recruiting 1800 volunteers for the phase III clinical trial of a vaccine against enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli -- a major cause of traveler's diarrhea, which affects about 20 million visitors to countries such as Africa, Asia and Latin America, as well as illness in more than 200 million children living in those countries each year. If approved, it would be the first vaccine for traveler's diarrhea available in the US.

A couple years ago, we looked at the question of how researchers and companies decide on compensation for subjects' participation in clinical trials. But the trip offered by the Austrian company seems to be an entirely new recruitment tactic, the BMJ reports.

Intercell joined forces with Inclinix, Inc., a North Carolina-based clinical trial enrollment solutions provider, to devise a strategy including partnerships with major travel and tourism websites, as well as a variety of social networking outlets, including Twitter and YouTube. "Social communication avenues allow Inclinix to reach a unique audience," Diane Montross, director of patient recruitment for Inclinix, told Medical News Today. "We are defining the next patient recruitment landscape."

In addition to the flight to Central America, participants will receive at least six nights of three star accommodations, pre-paid mobile phones, welcome kits with useful travel tools, and $1,500 in cash upon completion of the study. Participants will be given either the active vaccine or a placebo before travel, give blood within 48 hours of arrival, keep a stool diary throughout their trip, and provide additional blood and stool samples if they develop diarrhea.

For more information go to the TREK Research Study site.